Michael W. Tantala
Engineering, University of Pennsylvania
"I am currently
studying full-time as a Student at Princeton and working
part-time as an Intern at Tantala Associates, Philadelphia, PA.
The most interesting internship project I worked on was the
design of a three-story, heavy timber structure which is a night
club in Philadelphia. I was able to work on all aspects of this
project from foundations to structures to working with the
architects and clients."
"Get active in ASCE.
You'll get to meet leaders and have opportunities to develop
professional skills. Students should not only master technical
abilities, but should also become proficient in speaking and
writing. Well-roundedness is an attribute of a good civil
"The most important thing to me when I pursue a job is will I be happy?
And in that word happy there's a lot of things implied. Will I be
challenged? Will I be given the opportunity for personal growth and
professional growth? Will I be able to work with projects that I'm
"My relationship with my mentor is, is very important. Now that I'm
looking at graduate schools, one of the first things I'm going to look for
is, is there going to be somebody there that I can work closely with? When
I first came to Penn and I went through classes like everybody else, but
then I started talking with a professor, we had similar interests, and
that's really made the difference for me."
Q: When did you decide to
study civil engineering?
I decided to study civil
engineering at a very young age, I guess, about ten. My father has been in
the business and I always had an interest in structures and something
technical as opposed to more liberal. And actually a funny story, my dad
would always go out on jobs. And one time he took, took me. He said he was
going to take me out on a job. And he took me out for about three hours to
this arcade and let me play all the games I wanted to play and everything
like that. And every time after he would tell me we're going out to the
job and it was like Pavlov's dog, I would always go out with him to these
jobs thinking I'd go to the arcade but it was really a job. So I guess a
little bit of that is still in me and I always think about that.
Q: How do you think of
Civil Engineering work?
As fun. I think about work and
working with different kind of projects, be it research, academic or out
in the industry, I always think of it as fun, interesting and challenging.
Q: And why did you decide
to go Penn?
I chose Penn because it is in
the area. I wanted to stay in the area. My father and my brother each
graduated from Penn in civil engineering. I liked their program, I think
they have an interesting program that combines civil engineering -- the
degree is called civil engineering systems here at Penn and it seeks to
include not only the technical aspects of engineering but also the
professional aspects. When you do an engineering job today, you don't just
design the bridge, you have to determine why you are designing the bridge,
where the bridge is going. There is a lot of political, social and
economic factors involved with any kind of project you do today. And we
can see that more as globalization takes part.
Q: How would you describe
your course load?
Course load? It's a fair
amount of work. Like I said, I enjoy a challenge and I get a fair amount
of the technical but Penn also has a liberal education so I have the
opportunity to take business courses, law courses and that is all going to
be a part of what I see myself going into. It is a lot of late hours
working in engineering but it is also a lot of fun. I like the people I
get to work with and it's interesting.
Q: What year are you?
I'm a junior at Penn. Just
finished classes and I'll be starting my senior year in September.
Q: So what is your
specialty? Or do you have a specialty within that program?
My focus within civil
engineering is structural engineering. Materials, structures. I also am
interested in geotechnical engineering, foundations, soils, how structures
and foundations interact, things like that.
Do you have a coop program here?
We don't have a coop program
like they do at Drexel but we definitely have the opportunity during
summers to pursue a job at a local firm. Or what I've done, I've done
research every summer that I've been here. I have a mentor within the
engineering program and we work on a series of projects. We have a couple
of projects lately for the summer that are with the government or the
National Science Foundation.
Q: Tell me about your
relationship with your mentor. Is that important to you?
That is very important. My
relationship with my mentor is, is very important. Now that I'm looking at
graduate schools, one of the first things I'm going to look for is, is
there going to be somebody there that I can work closely with? When I
first came to Penn, I went through classes like everybody else, but then I
started talking with a professor, we had similar interests, and that's
really made the difference for me. And that's one of the things that I
think has made me successful in what I do. Because I can always work on
projects with him. I have somebody to talk, be it technical, professional
or personal, any kind of issues that I have. And I always have a place to
go to sit in his office and chat or go out to lunch with, things like
that. So it's really made a lot of opportunities and it's almost like a
father figure, a second father figure for me.
Q: How did you create that
Actually, it was through ASCE.
My freshman year I had written for the Shimizu essay contest and I won.
And during an ASCE meeting, a Penn ASCE meeting, they announced it and he
heard about it. And he called me into his office to talk to me,
congratulate me, and asked me if I wanted to work on research with him
that summer, which was really a big leap in terms of opportunities because
freshmen engineering students at Penn usually don't get asked to do
research during the summer. It was sort of like a foot in the door for me.
And I've just worked with that every summer. So it was really ASCE that
helped me find somebody with really similar interests.
Q: What other engineering
activities do you take part in school?
I'm President of the Penn ASCE
chapter this year. Aside from that, I am an editor for the engineering
magazine at the University of Pennsylvania. I am going to be
editor-in-chief next year. And that magazine is the Triangle Magazine and
we talk about different technical issues that are not only within the
school but also in the surrounding community and even nationally. And not
just technical but also professional issues. We have had a lot of
interviews with different people who have really been leaders in the
Q: Do you think it is
going to be useful in terms of job hunting or your career?
Yes. I think if I were looking
to hire an employee, I wouldn't only look at their grades, I'd also look
at how well rounded they are in terms of were they involved in research
and what extracurriculars. And I would primarily look for involvement with
ASCE. I think my involvement with the
Triangle Magazine has been interesting because it's allowed me to sharpen
my writing skills, my communications skills, my speaking skills, and I
think that's really important for engineers to have. Funny, I go to a lot
of ASCE dinners and functions and I always make it a point to ask the
engineers what's the most important course you did take or could have
taken? And these are older engineers, they're not fresh out of college.
And 99% of the time, it's uncanny, they respond with I took a speech
communication course and I can speak at ASCE functions or conventions. And
that was the most important course that they always say. Not only speaking
but writing. I think that's really important and should be stressed for
civil engineering students.
Q: So you're going to go
to graduate school?
Yes, I plan definitely to go
to graduate school. I have one more year left at Penn and I don't know
exactly which graduate school I'm going to go to yet but I'm really
looking forward to it. I think it's important. It's important for me to
have a Masters but also its important to become a licensed engineer, I
think. I'm going to also pursue getting my PE license, Professional
Engineering license so I can practice.